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Mountain Home Magazine

Friends Who Play Together, Stay Together

May 01, 2024 09:00AM ● By Lilace Mellin Guignard

The benefits of a youth orchestra are numerous—music, obviously, but love? Stay tuned.

For more than thirty-five years, the Williamsport Symphony Youth Orchestra, a nonprofit, has been giving young musicians in Lycoming, Sullivan, Columbia, Union, Northumberland, and Montour counties the opportunity to meet students from other schools and refine their skills shoulder to shoulder. Audience members get to enjoy the WSYO concerts held twice a year, the next on May 5 at 4 p.m. at the beautiful Community Arts Center in downtown Williamsport.

One benefit of playing in a youth orchestra might not readily occur to middle or high school musicians: the possibility of meeting one’s future spouse. Both Jason Hurwitz and Matthew Radspinner grew up in Williamsport. Both are still playing violin and bass, respectively. And both cite WSYO with helping them connect with their wives.

Jason was leaving rehearsal one day and thought he recognized a girl he knew from the community but didn’t expect to see there. When she walked by, he turned around to get a better look and smacked into a closed door. This is a story he and his wife, Victoria, tell often. Matt also met his wife, Anna, there—she was a year ahead of him in school. They’ve been married twenty-two years.

Not that these meetings were orchestrated (sorry), but whether it’s finding future spouses or future friends, Jason and Matt emphatically agree that the most enriching part of their experience was getting to know peers from other schools and class years that they wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s where they met each other—Matt was a few years ahead of Jason. “Matt is one of my favorite people,” Jason says.

Jason started playing violin at age five after seeing Itzhak Perlman play for Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street. “As a kid and aspiring violinist—practicing thirty minutes to two hours a night—my parents took me to lots of concerts,” including WSYO concerts. He was motivated, and says he “knew as soon as I was eligible that I’d audition.” He started playing with them in 1997 in seventh grade, under the baton of Rick Coulter, former head of music and gifted education for Williamsport School District, and played until he graduated in 2002. During his senior year he was concertmaster (principal violin), which was always a goal.

“I was really honored to earn that,” he says. Rick pushed Jason hard, adding leadership and interpersonal skills to the musical and social skills he’d already learned at WSYO.

Jason went on to receive an undergraduate degree in music. He became a professional violinist, touring nationally and internationally with Barrage. In a production of Fiddler on the Roof he was, in fact, the fiddler on the roof, playing his violin from the stage. He lives with his family in Montoursville now, working as a financial advisor, and he has a group that plays for weddings and other events. (Note to area theaters  contemplating Fiddler: Look Jason up.) “As I look at the community of professional musicians in Williamsport,” Jason says, “a lot became my friends back in youth orchestra.” He’s performed with the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra, and is currently on the board of trustees, chair of the artistic advisor committee, season subscription holder, donor, and, he says, “vocal Friend of the Symphony.”

Matt, currently the orchestra director at Williamsport High School and the K-12 music department chair, joined WSYO in 1991 in sixth grade and has vivid memories of being the only bass player. Because of that “I was singled out and had to rise to the occasion,” he says. “It was a big moment for me musically, realizing I’m pretty good at this.” Matt received undergraduate and graduate degrees in music education and was WSYO assistant director under Rick Coulter for a couple years when teaching elementary and middle school strings. Matt founded the Junior Strings program around 2011 as a way to give more students leadership opportunities.

In 2017, Matt became WSYO director and spread the message, what he calls a life lesson, telling kids: “You need to find your people.” During the four years he was director, he enjoyed showing them how to reach the next level of musicianship.

“We had our 2020 spring concert a week before everything shut down. I was very proud to help them get through covid and lead them back in fall of 2021.” The numbers are back up, but Matt says there are added challenges to recruiting students now. Though the WSYO only meets once a week, “Now there are so many more things for kids to do—sports go year-round rather than a season,” Matt explains. “It’s harder to get kids to commit because they are pulled in different directions.” Still, many travel an hour or more for those weekly rehearsals. Matt now plays in the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra, encourages his students to audition for WSYO, and regularly attends the youth concerts.

“I wouldn’t be where I am now,” Matt says, “if I didn’t sit in a bass section with a guy named Brett Shurtliffe at WSYO in high school. He was a bass player from Lewisburg and always a little better than me. We’re friends to this day, though he lives in Buffalo. He’s won international acclaim. I would not have practiced nearly as much if I wasn’t sitting in a section with him every Monday night.”

The world of music is a small world. But, if Jason and Matt are to be believed, it’s a great world to be in. Maybe the WSYO can help you find your people.

The May 5 concert will feature the Junior Strings playing Appalachian Festival by Chris Thomas, Spring by Vivaldi, and Vocalise by Rachmaninoff. The WSYO will perform Esclavos Overture by J. C. Arriaga, Two Pieces for Small Orchestra by Frederick Delius, St. Paul’s Suite by Gustav Holst, and “Prelude to Act 1” from La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi.

For more information visit or call (570) 322-0227. The concert is free, thanks to supporters such as the Woodcock Foundation, and will showcase over forty students in WSYO and over thirty in the Junior Strings.

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